New race supports Wounded Warrior Project

Jan. 30, 2014 @ 01:34 PM

Jeremy Johnston likes to say fitness saved his life.

It’s the Navy veteran’s hope that fitness can also help his fellow veterans.

“We have so many young kids and men and women that are over there fighting so you can get up and go to work,” Johnston said. “… Now you have a chance to get out there and be a part of something for people who gave their lives.”

Johnston, 36, is helping to organize the Warrior 10-miler, a road race in Pigeon Forge on March 1 to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. The CrossFit Sevier coach was injured himself when he was struck by a drunk driver while serving in the Navy. He was told he would never walk again and now he can run.

Johnston said he wants to offer that same opportunity to returning veterans by supporting Wounded Warrior.

“They just help out in any way they possibly can,” Johnston said. “It’s such a great thing for a  group of men and women that have done outstanding things for us.”

That cause may be another reason for the popularity of the inaugural race. Director Frank Damante, an avid runner himself, said he already has 120 pre-registered runners for the 10-mile run and companion 5K race. His goal had been 150 total but he’s revised that to around 200.

“I think a lot of it has to do with people supporting our soldiers,” Damante said. “Whether they support the wars or not, I believe the American people are behind our soldiers.”

The March 1 event is hosted by the Riverstone Resort and Spa in Pigeon Forge. The 10-mile race will leave Riverstone and head up Veterans Boulevard nearly all the way to Sevierville Primary School before returning to the resort. The 5K course follows Veterans to Dollywood and back.

Damante said he came up with the idea for the race after buying a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and participating in a ride to benefit Wounded Warrior. He wanted to do something in Sevier County for the project.

His thoughts quickly turned to a running race.

“The running industry is a multi-billion dollar,” Damante said. “Just look at the Covenant Health marathon (in Knoxville). … Being a local person, see how many people you see running in your community. It’s huge everywhere.”

The numbers already seem to bear that out. Johnston said fitness and supporting military veterans are a natural fit. Traversing 10 miles on a Saturday morning is a nice way to recognize all that veterans do, he said.

“It recharges your battery,” Johnston said. “People do care. I think people see it for what it is and they want to be a part of it and give back. I think it’s just a big ‘thank you.’ ”

To register for the race, visit